Pricing for Portable Sawmill Sawing Services

Whether pricing by the board foot or by the hour, make a good accounting of your costs before you set your rates. November 5, 2013

I have been out of the portable sawmill business for about seven years now (cut for 12 years before I got out). I just decided to get a used mill (2006 HDD40 Woodmizer) and pick my hobby back up in South Louisiana (did miss doing it). What is the going rate for cutting by the lbf? Seven years ago I was getting .25 lbf for soft and .35 lbf for hardwoods. Back then I did not charge a travel or setup fee. I know some people like to cut by the hour, I find I like it more by the lbf. Look forward to see what is shared.

Forum Responses
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
The mill you have is excellent equipment. Sorry I cannot give you the cost for sawing, but consider a flat fee (typically $/BF) or sawing on shares where you get some of the lumber.

From contributor Z:
Just a guess here as I'm a county forester in E. Oklahoma, not a Woodmizer owner but get most of my wood off of one. Softwood: $0.30, Hardwood: $0.35. If logs are decked up, sawing on half is not a fair deal for the log owner if the logs are good grade.

From Contributor A:
I pay $45/hr for sawing. I prefer to pay by the hour because I want to be involved in the decision making about what cuts are made. When I pay by the hour no one is in a hurry to get the most bf cut and I end up with better quality lumber. So if it's a slow day and we're only cutting 100bf/hr because I can't make up my mind or the log is difficult to handle I'm paying .45bf at the most. Good luck with your venture.

From Contributor K:
It really depends on what others in your area are charging and how many bd ft per hour you can saw. I would like to make at least $75/hr with my 40hp diesel super LT40 which is a pretty fast machine for a portable. I've seen mills that aren't set up very well not produce very many bd ft per hour. I've seen fast circular mills that would ruin a lot of logs in a hurry, and produce lots of bd ft. I would say that in the last seven years with the falloff in the building industry that sawing rates would be lower in general than when the boom times were here. Green lumber prices are pretty low, so I would think that means sawing rates aren't so hot either. Lots of small mills are gone, and big ones aren't cutting at capacity. Fuel prices are up, but demand will dictate what you can charge. If you have lots of low price mills in your area, unless you have some superior way to produce product, like quarter sawing very accurately, you may be stuck with what everyone else is charging.

From contributor G:
Just had some oak cut this summer and $50/hr here in NE Mississippi. Equivalent bf cost. Not a lot of competition though which would lower the price.

From Contributor T:
The prices you were charging seven years ago are not that uncommon today. You mentioned that you wanted to pick up your hobby again. You may not need to change your pricing structure if you were comfortable with it in the past. With the increased cost of fuels over the past seven years you might want to consider charging a travel fee to cover your fuel and time. Even if you consider it a hobby, you should go through a process of determining what it costs to operate your mill and add in a fair wage for yourself.

If you know your average production per hour, how much fuel you burn per hour, your blade costs, the cost of maintaining your mill, the acquisition and operating costs of support equipment, the cost of insurance to protect your equipment and family from loss, and the costs of doing business; you may find that .25 per board foot may leave you in the hole.

For some, your hobby may be worth it, for others it has to pay its way. I am retired with a pension but I still operate my mill as a business (a reasonable expectation and history of generating a profit - IRS). I am in a rural area just outside Kansas City and I am the only active, mobile mill I know of within almost 3000 square miles. I cut very little construction-type lumber, almost all of my production is for woodworkers. The only client feedback I have received is that my prices seem to be low - I'm fine with that.

From contributor E:
If you saw on bf you won't get paid:

- To trim the log that won't lie right, or let the mill head pass.

- When you hit a nail, and have to change the sawblade.

- When the owner wants to talk about his grandkids.

- For resetting the mill after a log rolls off the backside, or gets knocked off by the owner’s lack of tractor handling skills.

- For breaking your back offloading lumber when the customers' help doesn't show up.

- Lumber cut incorrectly and outs caused by distractions and peepers who want to watch.

The massage people in my area charge a dollar a minute or 60 an hour for their time. Their costs are their chair and hand lotion. Your costs are bands, fuel, parts, tools, machine, truck and about a dozen things I'm forgetting. Don't under-price yourself. Don't drive down the price of good quality know-how and effort for fellow sawyers in your area because you're afraid to ask for what you are worth. Charge appropriately for quality work.

From Contributor O:
The previous post was right on the money! There are so many variables to consider. I personally prefer by the hour. You tend to produce better quality and have the time to select better cuts that enhance volume and usability. I tried by the bf and found myself asking too much of my equipment and myself, with no better result. When you present a pile of wood at the end of the day to the customer my justification on occasion to the penny pincher has been this: You take all the wood here in inventory and compare to store bought prices. Every time that has come up, I have been 35 to 60% lower priced in the gross total of board feet.

From Contributor T:
Bf or hourly, it is something you have to be comfortable with. It doesn't have to be one or the other, I use both successfully; primarily by the board foot but hourly for special circumstances, prep work, etc. Pretty much everyone charges for hitting metal, whether sawing by the hour or by the bf.

Take a look at the gallery and visit some sawyer's websites. Pick up a phone and call a couple of sawyers. Most of us enjoy talking business and would be glad to answer questions. If they are secretive, full of doom and gloom, or don't want to help then move on. You'll find some practices that just don't seem right to you and others that are a match for your operation. If your fee structure fits you and your clients you don't need anyone else's approval.